Ul­ti­mate Guide: Power Drift

Ev­ery­thing you need to know about Sega’s sen­sa­tional su­per­scalar-based ar­cade racer

Retro Gamer - - CONTENTS -

When Sega’s ‘Su­per Scaler’ ar­cade se­ries took off, it re­ally did take off. Hang-on, En­duro Racer and Out­run proved that the hard­ware was per­fect for rac­ing games, but then the se­ries soared sky­ward with the ar­rival of Af­ter Burner and Thun­der Blade in 1987. This was largely due to the in­tro­duc­tion of Sega’s X-board hard­ware which added sprite and back­ground ro­ta­tional ef­fects to the ex­ist­ing scal­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, mak­ing it ideal for aerial ti­tles – par­tic­u­larly Af­ter Burner and its cel­e­brated bar­rel rolls.

This trend con­tin­ued with the de­but of the Y-board in 1988 which was pow­ered by three 68000 CPUS and de­liv­ered even more out­landish vis­ual ef­fects. The first ti­tle to utilise the Y-board was Galaxy Force, a 3D space shooter which pushed the scal­ing and ro­ta­tional ef­fects to dizzy­ing heights. The Y-board was a se­ri­ous piece of kit, but was it a good fit for other types of game? Could it be the en­gine for a rac­ing game? Per­haps – but to jus­tify its use, it would surely need to be ridicu­lous and com­pletely over-the-top. And that’s pre­cisely what Sega’s star de­signer Yu Suzuki de­liv­ered with Power Drift.

On pa­per Power Drift is a fairly typ­i­cal rac­ing game. You choose one of 12 wacky char­ac­ters (who re­sem­ble the cast of the worst US sit­com) and you have to com­plete four laps of a short cir­cu­lar stage. If you fin­ish in third place or higher you move to the next stage. If you suc­cess­fully fin­ish five stages you com­plete the course and the game ends. There are five dif­fer­ent cour­ses to choose from, so over­all there are 25 stages (plus a cou­ple of neat bonus stages). It’s pretty stan­dard, hum­drum stuff.

But the rac­ing ac­tion it­self is any­thing but rou­tine – and this be­comes ap­par­ent when you reach the very first cor­ner. On turn­ing, the view­point tilts sharply around the rear of your ve­hi­cle. It’s an un­usual and ar­rest­ing ef­fect, and it hap­pens al­most con­stantly due to num­ber of twists and turns you en­counter

(de­spite the ti­tle, no ac­tual drift­ing is in­volved). Fur­ther­more, the tracks are more like roller­coast­ers than roads, with bridges climb­ing high into the air and then drop­ping sharply back down to earth. All of this plays out at a fran­tic pace that barely lets up – even when you crash. Whereas Sega’s early rac­ing games rev­elled in crowd-pleas­ing crashes, it was ul­ti­mately grat­ing to see your pre­cious sec­onds tick­ing away. Power Drift does away with all that and af­ter a bad smash you’re dropped straight back onto the track and given a rolling start.

the game re­ally does show­case the power of the Y-board hard­ware. How­ever, as this is a Sega sim­u­la­tor, the game is only part of the story. For the true ex­pe­ri­ence you had to sam­ple Power Drift in its full-fat form. The ‘Deluxe’ cab re­sem­bles the famous sit-down Out­run model, but the mo­torised move­ment is more jar­ring and pro­nounced. In fact, on the sharpest of cor­ners the cab tilts up to 20 de­grees to the left or right. Sega even fit­ted a seat belt, which was prob­a­bly done more in the name of gim­mickry than safety. There was also the stan­dard up­right model which dis­pensed with the move­ment and re­placed the sit-down’s 26-inch mon­i­tor with a 19-inch one.

The game suf­fered in this more com­pact form, and per­haps ex­posed some of the game­play short­com­ings.

The re­ac­tion to the game from the specialist press was largely pos­i­tive, al­beit with a lot of “strap in or lose your break­fast” quips and other rad re­marks. The Sin­clair User staff were mas­sive fans, call­ing it “the rac­ing game to end all rac­ing games”, no less, and award­ing it 10/10. Some­what less en­thu­si­as­tic was News­field’s Robin Hogg, who wrote in The Games Ma­chine that “up against Chase HQ it doesn’t fare too well”. One crit­i­cism that everybody shared was the price to play, as the Deluxe cab cost £1 a go. At the time most coin-ops were still 20p per credit in the UK, and a few were test­ing the wa­ter at 30p. £1 was mad­ness and this prob­a­bly ex­cluded a lot of play­ers. “At a quid a go it’s fairly ex­pen­sive but nev­er­the­less it’s just one game you’ve got to give a whirl,” wrote Clare Edge­ley in C&VG.

Hav­ing pre­vi­ously scored a huge hit with its home con­ver­sions of Af­ter Burner, Ac­tivi­sion snapped up the com­puter rights and read­ied the game for the Christ­mas 1989 pe­riod. Of those the Com­modore 64 ver­sion was the most playable (though least ac­cu­rate) and the Atari ST was the least playable (though most ac­cu­rate). A solid ver­sion was later re­leased for the PC En­gine in 1990, but bizarrely the game was never con­verted to a Sega home con­sole, de­spite sis­ter Y-board ti­tle Galaxy Force ap­pear­ing on both the Mas­ter Sys­tem and Mega Drive. The game was

“We could never match [the ar­cade ver­sion] on the home com­put­ers of the time” John Mullins

re­ported to be in de­vel­op­ment for the Mega Drive, and later the Mega-cd, but ul­ti­mately it was never re­leased on ei­ther cart or disc. Mean­while Game Gear own­ers were treated to the Sonic Drift games – in these en­tries the tracks were flat, but the ve­hi­cle move­ment and vi­brant char­ac­ter ges­tures were pulled straight from Power Drift.

in 1998 the game graced the Sega

Saturn as an en­try in the Ja­panese Sega Ages range. This ver­sion is al­most ar­cade per­fect and in­cludes var­i­ous ex­tras in­clud­ing re­ar­ranged mu­sic, an au­to­matic gear op­tion and a new Grand Prix mode (which lets you play through the five cour­ses in suc­ces­sion). Three years later it was in­cluded on the Yu Suzuki Games Works com­pi­la­tion for the Dream­cast along­side four other hits from the main man. Like the Saturn ver­sion this was never re­leased out­side Ja­pan.

Hap­pily in 2016 the Nin­tendo 3DS ver­sion of the game did re­ceive a Western re­lease as part of the Sega 3D Clas­sics Col­lec­tion. Like all of M2’s 3DS re­mas­ters, this is a su­perb and af­fec­tion­ate up­date that plays bril­liantly in 3D. As yet the game has not re­ceived a stand­alone re­leased on the Euro­pean and US es­hops, but it has in Ja­pan where – sur­prise sur­prise – it fea­tures a unique ‘Spe­cial Mode’. Not only does this un­lock­able mode fea­ture mu­si­cal med­leys from other Sega hits, but the 12 rac­ers have been re­placed by Sega stal­warts (ev­ery­one from Shi­nobi and Alex Kid to the Out­run flag­man and ‘Mr Hang-on’). That’s all the retro love Power Drift could ex­pect to get – al­though say­ing that, it’s a mat­ter of fact that Power Drift is the only game in the Yu Suzuki Games Works col­lec­tion not to be playable in the Shen­mue se­ries. Could Power Drift fi­nally ap­pear in the up­com­ing Shen­mue III? Even Ryo might crack a smile at that prospect.

» [Ar­cade] It’s per­haps bet­ter to hang back a bit when the track is jammed up with rac­ers to avoid spin­ning out.

» [Ar­cade] A familiar site, but thank­fully a brief one as the game throws you straight back into the ac­tion.

» [Ar­cade] The game’s roller­coaster-style dips re­ally set the game apart from other rac­ers of the era.

» [Ar­cade] That first­place fin­ish is in sight, but watch out: sec­ond place is just be­hind.

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